Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Death of Leland Mitchell (Who?) Reminds Everyone of the Ugliness of the Civil Rights Era

 And Just How Absurd Racial Prejudices Were

A big problem in the 1960’s was interracial athletics.  Hard line segregationists had to confront the problem that outside of the south, athletics was integrated.  If southern based teams such as Mississippi State were to play non-southern teams, they would be playing teams with African American players.  This was unacceptable to the bigots who were elected officials, like Mississippi’s Gov. Ross Barnett in 1960.

Read the following and see if you can keep from cringing. 

In explaining his opposition to integrated sports in 1960, Governor Barnett had said: “If there were a half-dozen Negroes on the team, where are they going to eat? Are they going to want to go to the dance later and want to dance with our girls?”

Can’t do it, can you.

This problem reached a climax in 1963.  The Mississippi State basketball team qualified for the Midwest NCAA Regionals, and was scheduled to play a team with African Americans in Michigan.

But by the spring of 1963, pride in Mississippi State’s superb basketball team was challenging old racial attitudes, which were already starting to soften. Reacting to pressure from students and the public, the university president and the board governing state universities agreed to let the team compete. The governor and a handful of state legislators fumed but realized that they had no legal power to stop the team.

Then a chancery court judge stepped in and issued an injunction to keep the university from violating “the public policies of the state of Mississippi.”

Mississippi State University
Leland Mitchell (44) in the 1963
 N.C.A.A. tournament. A state judge
 had barred Mississippi State
 from playing against blacks.
Leland Mitchell, a star player on the Mississippi State team lead an ‘escape’ from the state.

“We need to head out tonight,” he said. “Who all else has a car?”

The actual escape was more complicated. The university president decided the officials named in the injunction should get out of town. He left for a speaking engagement in Atlanta. The coach, Babe McCarthy, along with the athletic director and his assistant, drove on back roads to Memphis and flew to Nashville. The next morning, the team’s second-stringers were sent to the local airport in Starkville.

They encountered no interference, so the rest of the team was summoned to the airport. The players all flew to Nashville, where they joined McCarthy for a chartered flight to East Lansing, Mich., the site of the regional.

“It was cloak-and-dagger stuff,” Mitchell once said. “It was almost like cops and robbers.”

And after the game with Loyola, which State lost, this happened.

After losing to Loyola, Mississippi State defeated Bowling Green in a consolation game. After the final buzzer, Mitchell shook hands with Nate Thurmond, Bowling Green’s star player, who later excelled in the N.B.A. — and who is black.

That interracial handshake drew considerable attention.

Ross Barnett, the racist Governor was right about only one thing in all of this.

Gov. Ross Barnett and other hard-core segregationists were worried that their all-white team might compete against blacks, a step the governor said he feared “might lead to integration across the land.”

and it is good that he was right.  As for Mr. Mitchell, he just passed away recently, and hopefully the memory of his achievements and life will last far longer than the memory of Ross Barnett, whose only reference should be that he was an ugly blight on the fabric of American history, and deserves to be consigned to the dumpster of history.

Partisans will point out that Mr. Barnett and his fellow haters were all Democrats, which they were.  But historians will point out that the Democratic party changed and the few remnants of Mr. Barnett now reside in the Republican party.  Any doubts that's where they are, see the debate on immigration reform and same sex marriage.

No comments:

Post a Comment